The Clerk in the Country

Tuesday 12th May 2020
As handy as a piece of old rope?

As I found in Waterford, serendipitous discoveries are one of the great joys for the amateur historian. Many years ago during alterations to an old farmhouse near here builders discovered, in a bricked up cupboard, what proved to be the hand-written accounts book kept by successive village constables from the 1770s to the 1830s.

At this time a village constable was not only responsible for law and order but had wide-ranging duties including collection of rates, recruiting for the local militia, supervision of itinerants, poor relief, keeping lists of jurors and making land tax returns. He was chosen by the parish authorities and any parishioner could be nominated; in a small village the same men could find themselves serving several times or for years at a stretch. Fortunately the few entries made each year in the book suggested that the duties were not onerous, consisting mainly in keeping the ditches and pinfold in repair, providing passes for strangers travelling through the village, balloting for militiamen and supplying them with their “ribins”. Occasionally the constable bought shot and in March 1809 Mr Thomas Schothrop, a farmer, made a “Journey to Selby for Handycufts”.

This conjures up an image of Mr Schothrop galloping off on his fastest horse, leaving a dangerous felon trussed up with old cart rope in the corner of a barn, but I suspect it more likely that the powers that be had decided every constable should be equipped with a pair of cuffs, and the journey was a more sedate affair in a horse and trap, with perhaps Mrs Schothrop going along for an outing. Who knows with what curiosity the new handcuffs were examined and whether trying them on resulted in a moment of panic and the possibility of a visit to the village blacksmith. Human nature being what it is, I’m fairly certain that someone at some point expressed the opinion that they were no more use than a piece of old cart rope.